Junkfood Science: Live a little!

January 10, 2007

Live a little!

Recent news reporting that “Australians among longest living in world” has resulted in some fun and interesting observations.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics just released findings that Australians are among the longest-living people in the world, with an average lifespan of 78.5 years for males and 83.3 years for females. The figures drop significantly, by 17 years, for indigenous peoples, citing factors of poverty and poor access to healthcare. By comparison, the wealthiest regions enjoy the longest lifespans.

So much for the “obesity shortens life” theory! The International Obesity Task Force has reported for years that Australia has one of the highest rates of “overweight and obesity” in the world, at 67% for men and 52.1% for women. Worldwide, in both developed and underdeveloped countries, according to the 2005 United Nations Human Development Report, the poorest regions have the lowest rates of “overweight and obesity”... but also have the shortest lifespans, such as a mere 37 years in Zimbabwe, 39 years in Zambia, and 48 years in Mali. And the fattest live the longest.

And so much for the dietary fat is deadly theory. The National Heart Foundation of Australia reviewed dietary fat and heart disease among Australians and in a 2003 issue of Nutrition & Dietetics reported that “current levels of dietary fat intake in Australia are around 32% energy from fat.” They also denounced a popular belief still circulating that eating fat contributes to heart disease and an early grave, reporting that there was “little evidence demonstrating that coronary events or death are linked to the amount of total fat in the diet.” This myth continues despite a significant body of evidence showing no support at all that dietary fat has any major effects on heart disease or most types of cancer for the majority of people. Based on the evidence, the National Heart Foundation of Australia said dietary fat intakes up to 35% can be safely consumed in a normal diet.

They also concluded that “dietary fat is not an independent risk factor for the development and progression of overweight and obesity” and that the associations between dietary fat and “obesity” reported in some observational, cohort studies was inconsistent, partly due to measurement bias and confounding factors such as physical activity. “No study reported a dose response relationship between dietary fat intake and weight gain,” they stated. This concurs with findings of Dr. Samuel S. Gidding and colleagues in a 1996 American Heart Association Medical Scientific Statement which concluded that dietary fat intakes are unrelated to body weights and fat people don’t eat more fat than thin people.

Dr. John Ray at Food & Health Skeptic had an especially humorous reaction to the news from Australia in a post, “Hey! What Happened To The Mediterranean Diet?”

Or the Japanese diet, for that matter? Countries that seem especially healthy in one way or another often have their characteristic diet promoted as the secret to a long life. On the figures below, I expect the Australian diet will now be similarly promoted — a diet heavy in big Macs, KFC, chips (French fries), fried food generally, Coca cola and everything that the food faddists deplore. When will the world discover the health-giving wonders of fat-heavy meat pies and Vegemite sandwiches — to say nothing of Lamingtons and Iced VoVos? Pardon me while I duck out for a nice sausage roll — encased in flaky pastry that's greasy with fat! You can get them anywhere in Australia.

[Photo: Jason Reed/Reuters]

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